3 Things I Learned from Dr. Karyn Purvis

 

 

As most families and agencies would say, Dr. Karyn Purvis, who lost her valiant battle with cancer on April 12, 2016, has been one of the most influential teachers for adoptive families. There are few conversations I have with adoptive families where I do not reference her words, wisdom, and expertise. “Be gentle”, “Are you asking or telling?”, and “Use your words” are so ingrained in me that they come out to just about any child (or adult) that I come across, in my adoption world or not. As a TBRI Educator, I was beyond blessed to sit and learn from Dr. Purvis at their intensive training, countless conferences, and Empowered to Connect before her passing. Each time I read her words, whether in the book The Connected Child or notes from past trainings, her lessons sink deeper, and I hope that I can turn to our clients and impart even a fraction of her wisdom as they care for their children from hard places. I took some time to reflect on all that I learned from Dr. Purvis and want to share those words with you today.

Adult Attachment Inventory

“We can only lead a child to a place of healing if we know the way ourselves.” – Dr. Karyn Purvis

Dr. Purvis’s instruction on evaluating adult attachment has not only been instrumental in my own personal journey, but is crucial for adoptive families to explore. As we consider taking children into our homes that have experienced trauma, we must give space and time to our own healing journey. These children are likely to trigger our own past wounds, no matter how big or small, and as the quote says above, we must lead the way into healing.

I took a flight a few days ago where I was struck again by the instructions to place the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping a child. The idea here is that you cannot help a child if you are passed out or harmed yourself by the lack of oxygen. If oxygen is flowing to you, you can quickly come to the aid of a child, calming them down and providing the oxygen they need to survive. The same principle applies to our own healing journeys. You cannot help a child if you are preoccupied with your own needs. You cannot guide a child toward healing if you don’t know what a healthy, secure person looks like for yourself. How do you know where to lead them? How do you teach them secure relationships if you are not secure yourself?

So what are the characteristics of a securely attached adult? Dr. Purvis outlines them simply as an adult that is able to:

  • give care to another
  • receive care from another
  • be autonomous
  • negotiate their own needs

Do you struggle with any of these areas? I can give care very easily but receiving that care from another person is quite difficult. Parents must be honest with themselves about their own childhood experiences and how that impacts you as an adult. Take some time to give real consideration to the list above that describe a securely attached adult. Which of these areas do you struggle with in your romantic, family, and friend relationships? If you struggle to receive care, you won’t be able to receive the love your child wants to extend to you. If you don’t know how to negotiate your needs, you will lean toward anger or distrust in your relationships. Perhaps you don’t trust that someone will meet your needs if you say them out loud, so you stay silent and grow resentful.

I encourage you to be honest with yourself and give grace and kindness to the areas where you struggle. This will make you better in all of your relationships, especially with your adopted child. When you learn to give love in a healthier way, your child learns to receive real love. If you can learn to be autonomous your child learns to trust others and trust themselves. Seek out the perspective of a counselor, pastor, friend, or spouse to identify the reasons you struggle with any of these areas. Journal, pray, and bring it to God to start your own healing journey to mark the path for your child to follow.

Finding and Giving Voice

“Tell your children ‘you are precious, you are valuable, and nobody else is created like you’” – Dr. Karyn Purvis

I have heard people speak of going into orphanages in Eastern Europe, filled with babies and toddlers, and describe the eerie silence. Is that what you would expect to hear from a room full of 2 year olds? What was discovered is that neglected children will stop crying once they learn that their cries are not attended to. If no one will respond and connect with you when you cry out, why take the time to cry out and feel that repeated rejection? Crying is a way of expressing a need, especially for a child that is not old enough to put their needs into words. If they experience neglect or abuse as a young child, they begin to feel as if they do not have a voice. As I mentioned above, learning to negotiate your needs requires an environment where you feel safe to express your needs and trust that you and your needs will be valued by a response. This cycle starts for us when as infants. You cried when you were hungry, your mother heard your cries, and fed you. This creates a cycle of trust, value, and love. Our children from hard places often have that cycle disrupted which solidifies the message that their needs are not important and no one will respond with care for them. As they grow, they stop speaking out their needs and develop strategies to meet their own needs. This often manifests in negative behaviors such as lying, stealing, manipulation, or aggression.

“Use your words” is one of my favorite catch phrases from Dr. Purvis because it teaches children to ask for what they need instead of using tantrums, lying, or acting out to communicate. It reinforces that their words, over negative behaviors, have power to get their needs met. They don’t need to hoard food if they learn they can ask for a snack and food will be provided to them. They don’t need to steal toys from their siblings if they learn they can ask to play with them.

Dr. Purvis encourages families to learn how to say “yes” over always saying “no”. This does not mean you become a pushover that spoils your child. You can learn to say yes to your child, even while technically saying no. For example, let’s say your child wants to watch a TV show or play with a particular toy but you are in a situation where they cannot do that in that moment. Instead of saying “no, we don’t have time for that” you can instead say, “right now we are doing this activity but tonight after dinner you can watch that TV show”. This message still keeps you on track for what you are doing in that moment while also telling the child that you heard their need (or want) and will meet that need, just not in that exact moment. Think over the last few days and all the times you said “no” to your child. Sometimes you must say “no” in situations where they are trying to run into the street or touching something that could harm them. However, I bet there are at least a few things that could be easily rephrased to turn your “no” into a “yes” and reinforce connection, trust, and security between you and your child.

Sensory Integration Disorder

“Deprivation and harm suffered early in life impact all the ways that a child develops – coordinator, ability to learn, social skills, size, and even the neurochemical pathways in the brain.” – Dr. Karyn Purvis

Dr. Purvis identifies 6 risk factors for children from hard places. Abuse, neglect, and trauma are the first factors that most people identify but Dr. Purvis also emphasizes earlier exposure to risk for the child in a difficult pregnancy, difficult birth, and early hospitalization. These risk factors influence the way children think, trust, and connect with others and these will impact our children regardless of the age they are adopted. One main area that these risk factors can hinder is our ability to process sensory input. Dr. Purvis states that our senses serve four primary functions:

  • To alert the body and brain to important cues
  • To protect the body and brain from becoming overwhelmed
  • To select what is important to pay attention to
  • To organize the brain automatically

We take in the world around us through our senses – taste, smell, see, hear, and touch. We will add to this list common list the senses of proprioceptive (deep tactile pressure) and vestibular (balance, body in relation to the earth). Our senses help us take in input from our environment, organize that input, and send us a message. For example, if we smell something burning, our brain very quickly processes that smell by telling us what the smell is (burning food or burning materials) and tells our body how to respond (look for fire in the house, run away from danger, stay calm because it is just a campfire, etc). When our children have a breakdown in processing, their brain is not able to compute the input their senses are giving them as quickly or in the same way are someone with typically functioning sensory processing.

For our children from hard places, a disruption in sensory processing often results in frustration, overstimulation, or dysregulation. If your child is oversensitive in one or more of their senses, they are taking in too much information and their brain cannot organize it in a way to keep us calm and understanding. These are children that cannot wear certain fabrics in their clothing because the feeling on their body is overstimulating. They may not be able to say to you this issue is occurring but if their brain is preoccupied with the feel of their clothes, they are not able to compartmentalize that input and are unable to focus in school or at the dinner table. They may be too easily startled by loud noises and their brain is not able to calm them down as quickly or interpret any loud noise they hear as a threat. Other children may be under stimulated by sensory input and need stronger or more intense input in order to organize their world and thoughts.

Children that have experienced any of the 6 risk factors that Dr. Purvis outlines are at risk of Sensory Processing Disorder. These children will often display these struggles with sensory input in their behavior and parents should keep watch this. Perhaps your child is aggressive when others come too close, shriek when their hair is brushed, or refuse to participate in certain activities. If your child has a complete meltdown when eating certain textures of food or certain articles of clothing, this could be misbehavior, but it likely indicates an issue with sensory processing.

Here are some things you can do if you think your child may be struggling with sensory input:

  • Keep a log of your child’s odd or problematic behavior to see if there are patterns. Perhaps your child always has aggressive behavior after you come home from a crowded activity (party, church, grocery store, shopping, etc). This could indicate your child was overstimulated by the noise or bumping into others and their brain is not able to calm them down like it should once they are away from the overstimulation.
  • Give your child lots of sensory rich activities each day. This will help them meet their sensory needs and teach their brain to sense, organize, and respond to sensory input. You can search online for sensory activities you can do at home with your child.
  • Have your child evaluated for Sensory Processing Disorder by an Occupational Therapist. They will do an evaluation and treatment plan to help your child learn to regulate and get sensory needs met.

These three lessons are simple concepts but take a lot of intention and practice for you as a parent. Contact us at the Post Adoption Connection Center to learn more about how to integrate these concepts into your parenting, especially if you are experiencing difficulties with your child.

Post Adoption Connection Center

 

 

In December of 2017, I received an e-mail from a family who had adopted their 6-year-old son through international adoption the year before.  In their e-mail they expressed feelings of hopelessness.  They were writing to tell me that they were considering dissolving their adoption.  In their e-mail they stated, “At this point we have exhausted all our resources”.  I was particular struck by that statement.  How could they have exhausted all of their resources, when they had not reached out to me, their adoption advisor.

Prior to this e-mail, I had already been dreaming about a way to stay connected with our adoptive families.  I had long realized that after the adoption is final, many families do not return to their placing agency.  In fact, some families feel that their agency has “dropped” them and doesn’t care.  The staff person that they were previously working with has moved on to help the next family home with their child, and their time is limited.  They are unable to reach out to alumni families and offer support.  We remain here for our families, and It is our hope that families needing support will reach out to us.  Unfortunately, that is not usually the case.  I had begun to think and dream of a way to change this phenomenon.

Out of that dreaming and planning, came the Post Adoption Connection Center.  I am thrilled to see this vision become a reality.  On November 1, 2018, Nightlight Christian Adoptions officially launched the PACC.  It is our goal to use this center to stay in connection with our adoptive families.  We will be reaching out to you instead of waiting for you to reach out to us.  We want you to know that we are here, and that we want to be your first point of contact for anything that you are facing.  In addition, we desire for the PACC to be a place for birth mothers to stay in connection and receive support from our team.  We are offering mentoring and education resources, as well as, counseling services.  For more information about the PACC and how we can help, please click this link.

I am happy to report that the family I mentioned above is doing well today. I was able to put them in touch with our counselor on staff and through skype meetings and assistance, they made the decision not to dissolve their adoption.  They were able to overcome the hurdles they were facing and move forward as a successful family.  Nightlight Christian Adoptions serves our adoptive families for life.  We are here for you even after your adoption is final.  It is my hope that the PACC will assure our families that we care and that we are here for the long term.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching” Hebrews 10: 24-25

Adoption Support: What Is Helpful from Family and Friends?

So… you are parents and you’re in your home loving on your baby.  Friends and family are excited and want to celebrate with you, however, they may not quite know how to support you during this time.  They may wonder if it’s okay to stop by, deliver a meal or offer to babysit.  They may have additional questions as to what you need.  While I’m an advocate of telling people what you need, not all people hear when there’s a baby involved!  Let’s look at a few ways family and friends can support you while you bond and spend time snuggling with your little one.

In asking several adoptive parents how they either received support or would have liked to receive support, I compiled a list of things to consider as your family and friends champion you and your child:

  • DO pray!
  • DO accept our decision to adopt without question and how we choose to share about our personal life and decisions.
  • DO accept our choice of a child regardless of their race, heritage or age.
  • DO offer practical help if you don’t mind giving us your time.
  • DO respect that we need bonding time with our child.
  • DO respect our parenting style.
  • DO speak of the birth family with favorable words – We want to honor them with our words and our actions. Speaking negatively of our child(ren)’s biology can transfer to them.
  • DO be willing to learn and educate yourself about adoption.
  • DO show our child unconditional love.
  • DON’T feel sorry for our adopted child.
  • DON’T tell us that now that we’ve adopted we’ll get pregnant with a child of “our own”.
  • DON’T make demands for our time and attention during our adjustment to this new phase.

One adoptive mother’s story:  When we brought our child home (directly from the hospital) we had very few items.  We struggled for years with infertility and it was too painful to have baby items in our home.  Our child was born a month early (we had no idea of gender prior to birth) so we stopped at Babies R Us (while traveling home) to get what we needed.  Upon arriving home, I borrowed from friends (bottles and necessary items) to get through until a baby shower was planned.  I think everyone thought we must have everything that we needed (despite being registered at Babies R Us!) because at the baby shower we received only clothes and small items.  In addition, not one person brought us a meal or offered to help out in any other way.  I also didn’t get paid maternity leave!  We were not angry, we never expected anything from anyone, but I was hurt.  For years I had been supportive, excited, and giving (of time and resources) when my friends welcomed their children into the world.  In fact, when I confided in one friend about how sleep deprived I was she stated “well, isn’t this what you wanted?”.  This was what I wanted, but I was tired!  Everyone thought I should spring right in to motherhood, but I didn’t.  I was struggling terribly (with what later was pointed out to me, by an adoption worker, as post adoption blues).  I didn’t feel worthy of being my baby’s mom.  I would stay awake at night wondering if his birth mother was hurting, missing him.  I wondered if he missed her.  If I would ever be good enough.  I was sad, confused, and felt guilty during what should have been one of the happiest times of my life.  So… support me, on my terms.

Let’s work together to help those in the adoption community as they begin this wonderful stage of the journey! Be aware, and be sensitive/understanding and look for ways you can help, so that these new parents feel empowered and prepared to welcome home their new little one.

How Do You Celebrate “Gotcha Day”?

 

The term “Gotcha Day” has been used for many years by adoptive parents to celebrate the day their adopted child became part of their family.  We recognize that not everyone appreciates this term.  Some people instead call this special day “Family Day,” “Adoption Day,” or something similar.  Regardless of what you call it, this is the day that your adopted child became yours for forever.  Why is it important to celebrate this day?  It’s important to celebrate your child and to recognize that your child came to you in a very special way.  It’s important to celebrate the child’s heritage, birth country, and birth parents.  Your child establishes his identity through embracing who he is and where he came from.  Celebrating this day reveals to the child that you are aware of the culture and history of his background.  It also enables you to recognize the importance of the child’s birth parents and their love for him.  Everyone appreciates the opportunity to celebrate their child and the way their child came into their family.

Families choose different days to celebrate.  Some celebrate the first day the child was put in their arms.  Some celebrate the court hearing that made that child officially a part of the family.  Some celebrate the first day that their child met their whole family.  It doesn’t matter what day you choose.

In some families, the child may not be comfortable celebrating at all.  They may have negative feelings associated with the adoption process or parts of it.  In these cases, another option is to celebrate National Adoption Day (the Saturday before Thanksgiving) with family and friends.  The focus in such a celebration can be on adoption in general, and such events can help reduce the stigma surrounding adoption as well.

How do you celebrate “Gotcha Day” or “Family Day”?

The Marvin family celebrates “Family Day” by recognizing their son’s birth country.  In The Congo, people celebrate special days by purchasing Fanta Orange soft drinks in glass bottles.  The family has incorporated this tradition into their “Family Day” to give their son the ability to appreciate his culture.

The Inabinet family recently celebrated their 4-year-old son’s domestic adoption “Gotcha Day” by explaining to him in greater detail his adoption and that he has two mommies and two daddies.  The next day the adoptive and birth families came together to celebrate Preston by spending the day at the zoo together.  Preston was able to celebrate his adoptive family and still recognize and know his birth family.

Other ideas for how to celebrate this special day are as follows:

  • Create a book of the adoption journey and read the book to the child every year.
  • Look at pictures of the child’s birth family or birth country.
  • Go to a restaurant related to your child’s culture.
  • Mail a care package to the orphanage your child spent their early years in.
  • Tell your child stories of your visit to his birth country or the days leading up to his birth.
  • Be intentional on this day to create new memories and record them in a special way.
  • Plant a tree.
  • Take a picture as a family.

“Gotcha Day” or “Family Day” celebrations do not have to be elaborate, as long as they are meaningful to you and your child.

How to Educate Your Child’s Teacher & Advocate For Your Foster Child

 

 

There are many different approaches to take when educating teachers and advocating for our foster children. If we share too much, will teachers make assumptions? If we don’t share enough, teachers might not be able to help our child flourish.

Some parents feel it is best to share as little as possible. Many times, teachers who are not trauma informed hear they have a foster child in the classroom and suddenly our child becomes the classroom scapegoat. Minor issues—issues every child has—suddenly turn in to “red flags” and, more often than not, expectations are lowered to unreasonable standards.

On the other hand, some parents feel it is best to share as much as possible because knowledge is power. Educating your child’s teacher, telling their story, may help the teacher understand your child’s moods and behaviors in the classroom setting. When we know the “why” behind behaviors they can be addressed in a way that helps create new pathways leading to long lasting behavior change.

We know that parenting, and sharing, is not black and white. Therefore, let’s find balance in the gray area, as we strive to share on a need to know basis. Working together as a team, both at home and in the classroom, creates a sense of “Felt Safety” for our child.  It is helpful for teachers to know what triggers to watch for, and what intervention works best, when our child is triggered. Sharing on a need to know basis allows for understanding, for example—“Thursdays are rough because of visits on Wednesdays”.

It is not necessary for teachers to know private details of the birth parents, the case, or how the child came to live with you. Sharing on a need to know basis allows the teacher to have enough information to support your foster child, while simultaneously ensuring that we respect the details of a story that is not ours to share.

Calling All Teachers: School Assignments to be Prepared for Regarding Adopted Kids

 

 

With the start of the new school year comes the onslaught of homework and class assignments. While well intended, many assignments can be difficult for foster and adopted children as they require the child to know details about their genetics, heredity, and family history. Our children may feel uncomfortable or too embarrassed to publicly disclose to their teacher or their classmates that they don’t know some of their history or their knowledge is incomplete or missing. If they decide to share their story, they could face well-meaning but intrusive and very personal questions they’re not prepared to answer. The child may wind up feeling different from their peers and experience an increased sense of isolation.

 

We recommend scheduling a meeting with your child’s teacher ahead of time to find out their knowledge of adoption. This could be a great opportunity to educate them and advocate for your child and other children in the classroom coming from non-traditional family backgrounds. Some of the more common school assignments to be aware of and alternative options:

 

Baby Pictures: This can be distressing for a child who may not have any baby pictures of their childhood. Instead, the child could draw a picture of themselves or the assignment could focus on “All About Me” and include the child’s favorite things.

 

Family Tree: Many children have non-traditional family structures. A family garden or forest allows the child to include as many individuals in their family as they desire, whether it be step-parents, half siblings, adopted and biological parents, grandparents, aunts and cousins, etc. This is a great opportunity for children to learn families can be all shapes and sizes. Or the assignment could focus on those who have cared for the child, a “caring tree,” including previous teachers, foster parents, doctors, nannies, etc.  If the child wants to share that they’re adopted, an alternative assignment is the “Rooted Tree.” The child is the trunk, the roots are members of the biological family, and the branches are members of their current family.

 

Nationality/Heritage/Country Studies: Rather than having a child pick the country their heritage is from, they should be able to pick a country of their choice.

 

Autobiographies: Many children coming from painful or traumatic backgrounds lack information about their early years or it’s private and difficult to discuss. Alternatives could be to ask the child to write about a special event or person in their life, their life in the past year, or their entire life with less emphasis on their childhood.

 

Your child may react differently to each assignment, they may be excited to share information about their adoption or they may desperately want to fit in. Regardless, it’s important to prepare them ahead of time and talk through how they might handle particular situations. A great tool to prepare your child is the WISE Up! Book. WISE Up! empowers children to learn their story is unique, personal, and that they have the choice in how much information they decide to share about that. They can:

 

  1. Walk Away or ignore what it said or heart
  2. It’s private and I don’t have to answer it
  3. Share something about my adoption story
  4. Educate others about adoption in general

 

You can purchase the book online and listen to the companion webinar.

 

Why Do We Support Open Adoption?

 

 

I’ve been working in adoptions long enough to see the significant trend toward open adoptions over the past forty years. I recall sitting in meetings in the 70’ and 80’s with an Adoption Committee in the first agency where I worked doing the matching of birth parents and adoptive parents. Actually it was a matching of child and adoptive parents because the couple would never meet the birth parents; it was just important that the child had features or background matching that of the adoptive parents. The adopting couple received a piece of paper with information about the birth mother and birth father, and in turn, the birth parents would receive information about the couple. First names only, if that, and perhaps some additional non-identifying facts. Then, the baby, who had been in foster care from birth awaiting the legal work to be done, would be placed in the arms of the adoptive family. Happy endings? Yes, usually more so for the family than the birth parent. Could it be better? Yes.

Secrecy surrounding adoptions began in the 40’s and 50’s with good intentions. It was believed to protect all the parties involved.

• The birth parents were protected from the stigma of pregnancy without the benefits of marriage.
• The adoptee was protected from the stigma of illegitimacy and the concerns of “bad blood” which was loosely connected with what we know today about genetics and carried with it the overtones of the “sins of the father.”
• The adoptive parents, often an infertile couple, would be protected from the stigma of raising an illegitimate child.

 

They were protected from dealing with their infertility and from facing the differences between being a parent through adoption vs. being a parent by birth.

Closed records also precluded the possibility of birth relatives seeking out the child, or heaven forbid, set them up for a potential kidnapping. Fear was the driving force.

By the 70’s adoptees were beginning to speak out about the fact they did not know anything about their biological families and their heritage. They had been cut off from that part of their lives. As a result of their efforts over the past three or four decades, the practice of secrecy has taken a turn–for several reasons:

Adoptees have voiced their belief that they have the right to know more about their biological roots. Birth parents have said they want to know that their child has had a good life. If they haven’t said it out loud (which many could not in years gone by), they have thought it—every day.

Adoptive parents have come to desire that connection for themselves and their child. They understand that a relationship with the birth parent does not diminish their role in the child’s life – or heart. Single parenthood, being adopted and infertility no longer carry the stigma they once did.

Adoption professionals, lawmakers and counselors have listened to the voices and tried to make laws and policies that provide helpful answers for all. Underlying our effort at Nightlight is our confident belief that some level of openness is good and emotionally healthy for all parties. It can be in the form of meetings, visits, letters, pictures, texts, videos, Facebook page or any number of other ways to have contact. In order to be a good fit for individuals in the adoption triad, relationships must be customized, but all good open adoptions are characterized by open hearts, understanding and a good amount of trust.

When birth parents and adoptive parents meet, there is a “realness” that appears. These are no longer people in a book, or birthparents who don’t care about the baby. They are real caring families who want to be parents more than anything meeting with a woman who is trying to make the right decision for her child in spite of her own sadness. Fears on both sides melt away, and relationships begin.

As contact continues through the lifetime of the child, the relationship can change, as all relationships do. They may increase or decrease in frequency. Lives go in different directions, but the child will know that everyone in his life, whether contact is frequent or not, that he is loved by everyone in his world. We now have several years’ experience with openness in adoption and they have proven to have very positive outcomes.

It seems that society at large and those who have not had a recent connection with adoption continue to believe that closed adoptions are the best. Having a relationship with birth parents is a scary proposition… “we’d really feel better if we could just go on down the road and pretend there are no other connections out there.” But the truth is there is another dimension to the child’s life. Adoptive parents’ lives can be greatly enriched by opening their hearts and getting to know the person responsible for bringing life to their child. Meeting and establishing a relationship is the greatest honor that can be given to a birth mother–to the person that has entrusted her child, and all her hopes and dreams for him to the care of the adoptive parents. It is an act that binds them together.

Supporting BirthParents Through Adoption

 

 

Working with birthparents and seeing the emotions they go through in making the decision to place their child for adoption is not an easy task.  But it is necessary to support them through their adoption.  One way to prepare yourself to support a birth parent is by educating yourself.  There is a book for that! And this book has something for each member of the adoption triad.

 LifeGivers: Framing the Birthparent Experience in Open Adoption by James L. Gritter

It is a raw look at the decisions that birthparents make and what could and will occur in the often difficult journey of life lived without the child that she gives birth to.

If you are a Birthparent, I encourage you to read this book.  If you ever wanted to feel validated in the emotion you have felt as a birthparent, you will find it in this book! Guilt, regret, joy, pride, envy, grief, letting go, hanging on, worthiness, self-love, and so on.

In the chapter Why the Public Dislikes Birthparents:
“Pregnancy at an inopportune time in life raises complex moral questions. I believe we learn at least as much about the moral strength of these folks from the way they work through their situations as we do from the circumstances leading to their pregnancies. The adoption choice reveals a great deal about their character and basic values.”

In the chapter The Pursuit of Worthiness: 
“How sad that the extraordinary strength underlying the adoption decision is so often mistaken for failure – but that’s the way it is with adoption.” …and goes on to say… “Those who ignore the complicated nature of adoption will never understand its astounding depth and its mysterious capacity to enrich even those who endure loss.”

In the chapter Circumstances of Necessity:
“Women who are thinking about adoption should not base their ideas on propaganda: They deserve a reasonable description of its costs and benefits.” It is so important to educate yourself before entering into adoption. Keep learning to feel what your heart needs to feel in order to live life.

In the chapter Holding On and Letting Go, had this to offer when speaking of a birthparents ambivalence and the heart – head factor:
“…she faces a conflict between mind and heart, between thought and emotion – a potent clash between different internal systems of perception and appraisal.” …and goes on to say … “We find inventive ways to deny, avoid, delay, ignore, and minimize those factors that move us down a difficult trail.”

Adoptive Parents should read this book.  It will help you understand many different factors that birthparents must go through in order to help your family grow. Respect and communication are two factors that are imperative in adoption and the author reaffirms this. This book will help you understand that your child’s birth family will be very important to them.

In the chapter The Pursuit of Worthiness:
“The decision to entrust a beloved child to more promising arms requires great strength of character, for it is never easy to stand alone and counter conventional thought.”

In the chapter How Birthparents Fit In, when speaking of envy:
“If the hurt and frustration of infertility has not healed to some degree, it will be predictably difficult for adoptive parents to honor and appreciate the importance of the life giving role.” Learning to accept the things you cannot change, and living with what you have been given will play a huge role in your relationship with your birthparents.

In the chapter How Birthparents Fit In:
“…children are not confused by the involvement of birthparents (in their lives). To the contrary, open adoption kids are especially well-positioned to figure things out.” … and goes on to say … “And when children feel the unconditional love and affection of all the crucial contributors to their life stories, they are positioned to thrive.” It is crucial for adoptive families to understand this and believe it.

Adoptees should read this book.  It will help you understand the mind of a birthparent.

From the chapter The Pursuit of Worthiness, regarding answering those difficult questions from an adoptee:
“A question from his soul deserves an answer from hers, and she prays she can somehow find ways to explain her lonely experience, all the while knowing this is an experience for which there is no adequate language.”  There is hope that understanding will be there.

In the chapter Birthparent Regret:
“An expression of wistful regret that simultaneously wishes things could have been different yet accepts the reality that they cannot be is important and constructive information for an adopted child” … and goes on to say … “It reassures the child that she has always been loved and that she is where she belongs.”

In the chapter How Birthparents Fit In:
“Adopted children deserve a firsthand account of their birthparents’ rationale for adoption.” and goes on to say … “So many people are uncomfortable with the pain of adoption that adopted children often learn to deny their feelings of sadness.” I feel very strongly that every adoptee deserves the right to know where they came from. There should be no secrecy about who you are.

I think this book is a wealth of information and could be beneficial to anyone who wants to learn more about a birthparent’s choice.  In adoption, life keeps evolving, growing and shifting with each and every year.

Searching : A Personal Journey of Searching For Birth Parents

 

I grew up knowing that my mom was placed for adoption when she was an infant in the late 1950s.  My grandparents were unable to have children and worked with a private attorney to adopt my mom.  We had little to no information about her birthmother, and what little we may have had, was probably speculation at best for the reasons surrounding her decision.  Growing up, Mom never had a strong inclination to search for her birthmother.  In my high school and college years, I remember asking questions about why she hadn’t looked for her because I had a strong desire to search and (let’s be honest) meet my biological grandmother one day.   But my questions were always met with the same response that she simply wasn’t interested and she knew who her family was.  She also wanted to respect my Grandmother and feared that searching for her birthmother would crush my Grandmother’s heart and cause her to feel like less of a mother in my Mom’s life.  I deeply wish that my Grandmother would have understood that completing a search, and potentially meeting a birth family member, would have never diminished or replaced her role in my Mom’s life (or mine).

After graduate school, I started working in the field of adoption.  I was so amazed to see some of the advances that had been made towards sharing information in adoption – sending pictures, having visits, collecting genetic health information, etc.  As levels of openness in adoption have increased in even the last decade, I have often pondered the circumstances surrounding my mom’s placement. Who was her birthmother and what circumstances did she find herself in that made adoption her best option?  What became of her life and did she ever have more children?  Do I have aunts and uncles out there? Equally as important, I desperately wanted her to know that she made a good choice for my Mom and that she has had a good life.   And then, of course, I had other practical questions like, any chance you’ve had cancer or some other major hereditary disease we should be on the lookout for?

Starting Our Search

The day eventually came that Mom felt comfortable starting the search process.  She began by signing up on the State of Texas’s Central Adoption Registry.  Many states have a website where birthmoms, adoptees and biological siblings can voluntarily register and if a match is found, the state facilitates contact (with a little bit of pre-meeting counseling for all parties).  A short time later, Mom received a letter in the mail in response.  This letter informed us that her records were matched with her birthmother’s and that her birthmother had passed away.  The end.  No name.  No date of death.  No identifying information that would tell us anything beyond the simple fact that she was no longer here (and my dreams of meeting her were crushed). I had always pictured two outcomes from signing up on the registry – either being matched (with a living person) OR knowing nothing (because her birthmother or siblings had not signed up on the registry).  It didn’t occur to me that we would be matched AND we would know nothing further.

Our next step was to have a judge sign a court order to unseal Mom’s adoption records, which are maintained at the Bureau of Vital Statistics (BVS) in our state’s capital.  I thought this process would be like climbing Mount Everest blind folded.  I shared our situation with a friend who is an adoption attorney and he had the right connections to make this happen quickly.  He was able to do a little bit of research for us and within days a judge had signed off on an order!  He mailed it to the BVS office and we waited for a response. And we waited a little longer.  And, sadly, we are still waiting now.

I know there are other methods we could use to continue the search.  A simple Google search yields 11.2 million results for “searching for birth mother” with promises from companies to find birthparents in 3 easy steps.  For our family, we are working through the channels and at the pace with which we are most comfortable.  In my longings to have my questions answered, I have to remember that while this is my history, this is my Mom’s story.  I don’t want to press and pursue beyond her comfort level.

Things to Consider when Searching for Your Biological Family

  1. If you are thinking about searching for your biological parent or child that you placed for adoption, start with signing up on an adoption registry in the state where the child was born. While there is a small fee in some states to do this, these sites are legitimate and a simple way to be available in the event someone is searching for you too.
  2. The options for searching are growing. Court orders to unseal records may be granted or denied.  And, if granted, they still may not yield the answers you’re looking for (as in our case).  There are companies for hire and support groups alike ready to help you search.  We have not engaged in this process so while I have no recommendations to make, I caution you to do your homework on these companies and understand any fee structures before engaging their services.
  3. Have some fun with your DNA. This past Christmas, we purchased a DNA kit from Ancestry.com and learned a little more about Mom’s ethnic heritage.  It didn’t produce direct answers, but I was surprised by the excitement I felt at knowing a little more about where this side of my family comes from.  Another company, MyHeritage is also involved with DNA testing, more specifically to assist in matching biological families.  Currently, they are offering free DNA kits to those who apply and qualify through April 30, 2018.  As stated above, I caution you to do some research here too.
  4. For those of you who may have an open adoption, I would implore you to do what you can to keep the lines of communication open with birth families. Relationships between birth and adoptive families can certainly be challenging to navigate and may change in their frequency over time. However, having direct access to a birth family member who can answer questions an adopted person may not have until decades later (or, ahem, perhaps even the adopted person’s child!) is an asset.  Please know that I’m not encouraging you to maintain close contact if it puts a child in danger, or if someone is not making healthy choices.  But, if the environment is healthy, do what you can to maintain this relationship.
  5. For those considering adoption, I encourage you to work with a licensed agency. If my grandparents had worked with an agency (which I realize were not as common then as they are now), I wonder if documents might have been on file with them.  In our state, agencies today are required to maintain adoption records.  In the event they close, there are policies and procedures in place for the transfer of these records. An adoption agency will be a much easier entity to contact if information is needed.  Plus, they are also required to gather genetic health information from birth families, which is a valuable tool for you and your adopted child to have.  Adoption agencies can also help you navigate through birthparent relationship challenges that may arise.

Searching for birth family is a unique and personal journey.  There is not a one-size-fits-all search process that works for everyone.  Our family has learned a lot about each other in this process and have grown closer as we have experienced both excitement and grief in searching for Mom’s birth mother.  We may never know this side of Heaven who she is, but we know that she made a loving decision for my Mom and we will always honor her for this.

 

Best of Nightlight: Adopting out of the “Birth Order”

by Laura Godwin

Are you like your siblings? Or do you think that your birth order played more of role in who you are? Or does your genetic make-up determine more of your personality and qualities? Because siblings are raised essentially in the same environment, it stands to reason that we would be more like our brothers and sisters. Yet, reportedly the same home environment makes up only 5-10% of our personality, while genetic factors may have more impact—perhaps up to 50%. This then leaves birth order as another factor that could affect personality. In fact, much research has been done on this subject and quite a few books have been written on the topic of birth order. Most of us have heard that the oldest child is more assertive, conscientious, in addition to being more neurotic, envious, and nervous. Younger siblings are noted to be more creative, open to new ideas as well as rebellious.

So how does birth order affect the adopted child? Does it matter if children are adopted out of the “birth order”? In 1990, researchers wanted to find this out as no study had looked at the impact that an adopted child’s position in the family has on the child’s personality. [1] These researchers studied first-born children placed into the younger child position in the adoptive families. Many such adopted children could fall into this category—the first born child of a birth mother–placed into a family with one or more children. Of course, the reverse is also possible: children could be the second, third, fourth child of a birth mother and the first child of an adoptive couple. In an analysis by these researchers, the rearing order of the children had little impact on personality except for conscientiousness, which was higher for children who were raised as first-born. The child’s sex had more impact than did rearing order.

Although the cited study may be of interest, most adoptive families are not asking what impact rearing order will have on infants who are first born to their biological parents if they enter a home as the second or third child. If a child is an infant, then it is assumed that such a child will have the characteristics associated with the order placed into the adoptive family. What families want to know is what impact adopting children out of age order has on the children already there— especially on the oldest child in the home.

This subject is not found in scientific literature, but common sense and attention to each child’s needs can help in making the decision to adopt out of the rearing order as well as help in the adjustment of the children after the adoption.

First, consider your children’s present ages.  If your children are young, adopting out of order most likely will have less impact on them, than if they are older.

Next, consider sibling rivalry and the need for attention. If you have two young children and are thinking of adopting an 8-year old child, who most likely will need lots of nurturing and attention–especially if the child has more profound attachment issues–you need to consider how a school -age child, who may be more like a 4-year-old emotionally, will affect your life and those of the other children in the home. Although a child may be 8 years old, the child may be physically smaller and much less mature than a 4-year-old child in your home. If the newly adopted child looks like an 8-year-old, it can be easy to see this child as being much older than the other children and expecting more than the child is capable of doing. In fact, most children entering a home are going to have lots of needs and most likely will not be emotionally on par with other children of the same age. You will have to adjust your expectations for such a child. If an 11-year old from an orphanage is an only child, it is easier to treat the child like an 8-year old or younger. However, if you have a 6-year-old in your home, you may find yourself  requiring more of the older child.

Some families have larger age gaps in their children and adopt a child who can fill in the age difference. This means that neither the oldest nor the youngest child’s position in the family is displaced. Again, the chronological age of the child entering the family can be quite different from the child’s emotional age; you may find that this new “middle” child is more like the youngest child in the family.  As stated, it is all about expectations. If you adopt a child who fits nicely into the age range where your children are right now, this  newly adopted child may not blend as well as you had anticipated.

Children, who are older, can also have attachment issues and may have been sexually abused. This means that it can be difficult for such a child to be around younger children. Such children may try to harm the younger children—even if in subtle ways. It is natural for adults  to be protective of younger children. Behavior that parents may tolerate if there are no other children or only older children in the home becomes intolerable when younger children may become victims.

Some therapists indicate that a large percentage of older children coming from orphanages have been sexually abused on some level. (This is also true for children coming from the foster care system.) Precautions need to be put into place, and this will further change the family’s dynamics. The integration of such a child into the family should be done cautiously.  An older child should not be left alone with younger children until a pattern of behavior is well-established. Children should sleep in separate bedrooms and chimes may need to go  also on these doors.

In fact, it is better if a child who has newly arrived sleeps in the room on a cot in the parents’ bedroom for a while so that the child can feel secure. If the child is too old for this, then it would be better if the child has a room adjacent to the parents’ bedroom.

The same precautions that are taken when adopting an older child need to also be taken when adopting a sibling group. Sometimes the older child can harm the younger child. Often, however, the older child is very protective of the younger sibling, as the older child may have “parented”  the younger sibling(s) while in an orphange.

If an older child or sibling group is adopted, and you later plan to adopt younger children, you also need to consider the same issues of having an older child with a younger child in the home.

Experience as parents can also help you decide what age child you feel you can parent. If you are raising pre-school children, jumping to meet the needs of a middle school child can be quite an adjustment. However, if you are around meddle-school age children and feel comfortable with this group, then adopting an older child may be right for your family.

If your children are older, and you will be adopting a child (younger or older), you will want your children’s input on the matter. Although children do not make the ultimate decision on how parents grow their family (what would any “baby” in the family say about being displaced by a younger sibling?), having your children’s input can make them feel more secure and more welcoming of a new sibling. If your children do object to a new sibling, you can discuss with them their concerns and ways that the adjustment can be made better for all.

Asking the question, “Is adopting out the birth order OK?” and seeking advice means that you are seeking ways to make an adoption as successful as possible. Many families have thrived after adopting out of the birth order. It is a matter of preparation, commitment, and, if problems arise, taking appropriate steps to seek support and make adjustments.

For a discussion on adopting out of the birth order and getting advice from other experienced parents go to When Adoptive Parents Adopt Out of Birth Order by Lois Melina in Adoptive Families magazine.

 


[1] Beer, J. M., & Horn, J. M. (2000). The influence of rearing order on personality development within two adoption cohorts. Journal of Personality, 68(4), 689-819.